The Pittsburgh Penguins have had an interesting season where they started out 6-1-2. They then went a few weeks where they barely picked up any points. In their last 13 games though, they’ve been able to turn it around a bit. They’re 7-3-3, picking up points in 10 of 13 games. They sit just two points out of second place in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins turnaround has been filled by the obvious need of better goaltending and also depth scoring.
Goaltending, Depth Scoring Part Of Penguins Turnaround
Penguins goaltending was going to be a big problem when Matt Murray went down with an injury, but Casey DeSmith has filled in admirably in his absence. Though Murray is supposed to return Saturday night against the Los Angeles Kings, DeSmith has won seven of the last ten games that he’s started. He’s been over a .915 SV% in all but three of those ten games. In six of his last ten starts, he’s had a save percentage of .930 or higher, five of those being wins for the Penguins. Also, according to Corsica, he’s stopping 83.13% of high-danger chances this season. That included a save he made on Friday night on Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins.
DeSmith straight up robs Brad Marchand…sheesh pic.twitter.com/mgRHb5z4Dc
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 15, 2018
He’s giving the Penguins a chance to win nearly every night. Even when Murray is healthy, head coach Mike Sullivan will likely split them. With DeSmith playing so well, it’ll give Murray more time to get back to his former self. The Penguins weren’t getting this kind of goaltending prior to Murray getting hurt. The recent play of DeSmith has been one of the biggest reasons that the Penguins are slowly starting to turn this thing around.
Before this run started, Pittsburgh wasn’t getting much of any depth scoring from their bottom six this season. All of their scoring was coming from Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Phil Kessel. For a while, when they weren’t scoring in games, the Penguins almost always lost. Pittsburgh needed to get back to rolling four lines that can score. It was one of the biggest reasons they won back-to-back championships and it’s starting to show again.
Zach Aston-Reese and Derek Grant, two players who have mostly played in the bottom six this season, scored three of the five goals against the Bruins on Friday night. It was just Grant’s second goal of the season and Aston-Reeses’ third and fourth goals of the year. Kessel and Jake Guentzel also contributed to the scoring.
Even before this game, Bryan Rust finally broke out of a 21 game goal slump against the Chicago Blackhawks with a hat-trick. It was the Penguins fifth hat trick this season and they’re not even halfway through the season. Though a loss, a role player stepped up when the team was down and was trying to reel the team to victory.
Another player during this stretch who’s contributed some depth scoring is Riley Sheahan. He hasn’t scored in his last four games, though he had three goals in five games before that led to wins. Before those three goals, he had only two points on the year as the Penguins fourth line center. He most certainly wasn’t on his 11 goal, 32 point season pace he had last year. He isn’t on that pace even now, but it’ll go a long way for Pittsburgh if he can contribute more often.
The Penguins still have some ways to go, but their two main issues are finally being corrected. It’s just in time too, as they usually pick things up right when the New Year kicks in.
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